Family of suspect killed by Phoenix police files lawsuit against city, officers

Jan 8, 2020, 4:47 PM | Updated: 5:25 pm
Roland Harris, left, appears at a press conference Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, with attorney Tom Horne...
Roland Harris, left, appears at a press conference Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, with attorney Tom Horne, center, and civil rights activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin. Harris and other family members filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix over the killing of his son, Jacob, by police in January 2019. (KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)
(KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)

PHOENIX – The family of an armed robbery suspect killed by Phoenix police a year ago has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging two officers shot the fleeing young man in the back and then lied about the details.

The lawsuit was filed last month by Roland Harris and Jessica Perez, the parents of 19-year-old Jacob Harris, and Rodasia White, the mother of his two children, accusing the defendants of wrongful death and violating Harris’ civil rights.

The city of Phoenix and Officers Kristopher Bertz and David Norman and their wives were named as defendants.

The lawsuit, dated Dec. 13, says the city is liable because the officers were involved in previous fatal shootings and had not been properly disciplined or trained.

In June 2019, the family filed a notice of claim, the precursor to a lawsuit, seeking a $6 million settlement over the Jan. 10 shooting on Camelback Road near the Loop 101 Agua Fria Freeway in Glendale. The lawsuit doesn’t contain a dollar amount but asks for damages, attorney fees, costs and “such other and further relief as the court deems proper.”

The family is represented by former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and advised by civil rights advocate Rev. Jarrett Maupin.

When the notice of claim was filed, they released a clip of black and white thermal video from a police helicopter that was broadcast by 12 News. Afterward, police said the video was released to the TV station in error.

Police had been following a car carrying Harris and three other suspects believed to be involved in multiple robberies in the area, according to 12 News.

The helicopter video shows multiple police vehicles in pursuit when one bumped the back of the suspects’ vehicle, which skidded and stopped.

Police deployed a flash-bang grenade, a nonlethal explosive device used to disorient suspects, before Harris emerged from the vehicle seconds before being shot.

Bertz shot twice at Harris with a rifle before Norman shot at him four times with his handgun.

During a press conference Wednesday, Roland Harris said he thinks police panicked after the flash-bang was used and shot at Jacob Harris, erroneously thinking they were under fire.

“Admit the truth and deal with the consequences,” he said.

Both officers said in the police report that Harris turned back and made a threatening motion with a handgun before they fired.

The lawsuit says the video, witness reports and the autopsy confirmed that Harris was running away and leaning forward when he was shot in the back and posed no threat to the officers.

Roland Harris said there’s more video he wants to be released.

“It’s going to show that they shot my son in his back, he’s lying still, they shot him three more times with beanbags, and then they released a K9 dog on him and dragged his body back,” he said.

“And all this time he’s bleeding they never gave him any first aid.”

Three other robbery suspects, 20-year-old Jeremiah Lynn Triplett, 19-year-old Sariah Christine Busani and a 14-year-old male, were taken into custody. They face murder charges because of their involvement in a crime during which a person was killed.

KTAR News 92.2 FM’s Peter Samore contributed to this report.

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Family of suspect killed by Phoenix police files lawsuit against city, officers